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Washington Expected to Refocus Military Strength in Asia - 2004-08-15


Analysts say a planned re-alignment of U.S. military personnel abroad does not reflect a lessening of Washington's commitment to stability in Asia, but some individual countries in the region will receive less attention as the military focus is restructured to reflect post-Cold War concerns.

In all, it appears that at least 70,000 U.S. troops around the world will be repositioned.

U.S. officials familiar with the new plans, which President Bush is expected to detail on Monday, have said the majority of the moves will involve U.S. forces in Europe.

However, the proposed realignment is also expected to involve a major restructuring of the approximately 100,000 troops stationed in the Asia-Pacific region.

Washington has already announced plans to withdraw nearly one-third of its 37,000 troops based in South Korea.

Richard Baker, a military and political analyst with the East-West Center in Hawaii, says the realignment will strengthen America's military capabilities in Asia even if it ultimately means fewer troops in the region.

"The message for the region as a whole is the United States is modernizing and upgrading its capability to provide the security guarantees that it has been providing for a long time in the region," he said.

Washington has said for some time that it wants to recast what is essentially a Cold War deployment into a modern force capable of addressing contemporary threats, such as terrorism.

Mr. Baker suggests the War on Terror should result in reduced troop levels in South Korea and Japan, but that America's military focus on other parts of the region should increase.

"Other countries where we have cooperative arrangements, including Singapore, including Australia and various other countries in the region, will be affected by the new configuration of American forces because in many instances we'll be doing more things with those other countries than we had been before," explained Mr. Baker.

The United States already supports the Philippine government's fight against Muslim separatists, and contributes to Malaysian and Indonesian security operations in the Strait of Malacca, which is thought to be especially vulnerable to terrorist actions.

Washington also hopes to expand a joint military training base it occupies in Northern Australia.

U.S. Officials say any major troop realignment will take years to implement.

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